Jeremy Brock, Coal Miner and BBQ Competition Competitor; Evarts, Kentucky:
“I’m a coal miner, repairman/electrician. I [have worked] underground in deep mines for fourteen years. Once you get used to it, I wouldn’t do nothing else. It’s a culture; it’s brotherhood.
When you first go in, it will make you nervous ‘cause the mountains will pop, crack, and moan. It’ll scare you, but after a while, you get to know the sounds; you get to know everything around it. It sounds like it’s coming in, but it ain’t gonna fall. It’s just the weight setting on the mountain. It’ll mess with your mind for a little while. When you pillar, you’re more than likely gonna get almost caught sometimes. You’re pulling a pillar, and it’s falling. It’s designed to break where it is, but you’ll be standing there. You know where it’s gonna break but still, it’ll put the fear of God in you.
I’m on third shift. We do all the maintenance that the coal run people can’t. We’ll change the motors; if they can make it run they’ll make it run. Then we come in and fix it right. That’s what we do. We service the equipment.
When I was young, I wanted to get away from it [Appalachia]. I wanted to go away. And now that everything’s hit the fan, like with the coal mines and everything, I look at it and I just think, you know, if somebody don’t stand there and do something then it’s gonna die. And it breaks my heart now because I just don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s home.
September’s [supposed to be a lay off]. We had a contract with US Steel that they pulled from us, and it ‘bout killed us, but then they come back and wanted the coal. We were very fortunate.
Hillbilly? Some people take it as offensive but me, that’s what I am. It’s not really a bad word. We’re self-reliant people. We can do a whole lot of stuff people in the city can’t do. A lot of us can farm; a lot of us are auto mechanics. Anything we want to be we do it. We’ve got what most people ain’t got. We gotta do it ourselves if you want something done. MacGyver [had to be a coal miner.] A coal miner can fix anything with a cap wedge and black tape. You’ve got to make do with what you’ve got; to work with you’ve got to do with.
I guess these days things are a lot fast paced. People don’t care about people. Mountain people actually care about the other. That’s what me and my wife say. Even if there’s a coal accident in West Virginia and kills somebody, you feel it because you know what they’re going through. I’m pretty sure the city [people] don’t do that. If somebody gets killed, oh well, somebody gets killed. [Here] It’s like a brotherhood, we’re mountain people. We care about people.
[The proper pronunciation of Appalachia] Appalat-chuh. I don’t know who came up with Appalay-shuh. I just laugh. I know they’re not from here. They’re somebody from away from here.
You’ll see a media show and they’ll be five people that’s crazy as a bat, I’m sorry but that’s what it is, and instead of showing the actual people there, they’ll go get them. It’ll be like one percent of the population, but that’s what they’ll show. People should just come and see for themselves. You know, meet the people, and they’ll be very surprised.
I really hide it, but the drug epidemic in our area. I was a part of that; I got addicted for about five years. I’ve been clean now for eight years. My little girl [turned me around]. Kytalynn, she’s eight. She’s my world. I’ve got a little boy now too; he just turned one in May. He’s a handful now. That set me straight. I was wanting to [be set straight]. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. They look at these people and [say] ah, ‘That’s a dopehead.’
People don’t understand it’s a sickness. It really is and the people that are doing it don’t want to do it. They done something for fun or experimenting, it got them, and they can’t get away from it. It can be done. I did it. You just gotta put your nose down and go and don’t look back.
My kids. That’s everything you live for. People will tell you, you don’t know love till you have kids. That’s definitely true. [I’m] a country man. It’s just what it is. Once you get a kid, that’s what you live for. The coal miners that go underground, they don’t do it for fun. People say they do it for money, that’s a lie. They got a family, they got kids, they got a wife they gotta provide for. That’s why they do it. Family’s important to the country person. I teach my kids [the importance of Appalachian culture] every chance I get. Be who you want to be.
My hobby is competition barbeque. This is highly competitive. I’m a new team, and I’m trying to get started. I do a little bit of catering here and there. I hate to brag, but I am the best in Harlan County. Hands down. Come taste it, I’ll tell you, I’ll show you. It’s good. I’ll hopefully turn it into something, after coal mining maybe, if coal mining falls through.
I’m trying to get a trailer up, but times is hard. Look around, these people got seventy-eighty thousand dollar rigs, and I’m cooking out of a tent and a Tractor Supply trailer. That smoker right there is high dollar. I’ve got about twelve thousand dollars with everything I do. It’s been building for two years.
My wife bought me a barrel smoker from Wal-Mart. I went by it, I was nineteen years old, and I said, ‘Man, I’d like to have one of them.’ I worked second-shift in the mines. Well, I come home one night and there it sit. That’s what she done. She worked at the nursing home as a nurse aid then. She used her own money, I didn’t know about it. I was very surprised. I cooked on that and it drove me crazy ‘cause you can’t control the temperature. Then we went to an electric smoker. It was a little easier and gave the food a better taste.
I started cooking for people at the mines and cooking for little festivals with that electric smoker. They’s like, ‘That’s real good. You outta do something with it.’ Then, I finally made the step to the big one. Charcoal wood, that’s all you use. Got a computer system to control the airflow. It’s just wonderful. People don’t realize just how much goes into a competition. It’s the color, the size, and the shape. It’s meticulous work. It’s all about the little details. [I’ve been competing] two years. This will be our tenth contest. We won sixth place in pork in Sevierville out of sixty-two teams. We just placed ninth in chicken in Knoxville a month ago. We’ve placed fifth in pork in Barbourville. We placed fourth in pork in Tennessee last year. We’re just getting to where we know everything; we’re getting to know things. There’s a lot of tough teams, but I’m gonna give it hell trying.”